California labor leader Albin Gruhn dies

by John Wildermuth, San Francisco Chronicle

When Albin Gruhn got his card from the loggers union in 1934 after starting work for a Humboldt County lumber company, he never suspected that he was beginning what would become a lifelong career in California’s labor movement.

Mr. Gruhn, who died March 18 in San Anselmo at the age of 94, spent 36 years as president of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, helping build the organization into a political and social powerhouse in the state.

"Few can match Al Gruhn’s devotion to working men and women," said Art Pulaski, the labor federation’s executive secretary-treasurer. "Driven by his passion for justice in the workplace, Al’s career has been an inspiration for all of us. He never backed down from a fight."

Mr. Gruhn started fighting early. He was born in Eureka in 1915, and went to work for the Hammond Lumber Co. in nearby Samoa (Humboldt County) right out of high school at the age of 19. A year later, he found himself in the middle of a bloody strike against the logging companies that left three union pickets dead.

He was blacklisted by the lumber companies and joined the Laborers’ Union, becoming secretary of the Eureka Federated Trades and Labor Council at the age of 22. In 1940, he was elected district vice president of the state labor federation and took over as the organization’s president in 1960. He held that job until his retirement in 1996.

As a union leader, Mr. Gruhn was deeply involved in the California Labor Federation’s annual scholarship program, which helped hundreds of graduating high school students across the state.

Mr. Gruhn also was one of the earliest advocates of the state’s consumer movement, serving as a founding member of the Association of California Consumers, the state’s first consumer organization, during the 1960s. In 1972 he became a founding officer, and ultimately president emeritus, of the Consumer Federation of California.

"Al was a great pioneer of the consumer movement in California," said Jim Gordon, the federation’s president. "Al Gruhn always had the interests of consumers and working people in his heart. He built bridges between the consumer movement and our allies in organized labor and in the community."

Mr. Gruhn served on a number of state and local commissions, accepting appointments from Govs. Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, George Deukmejian and Jerry Brown. He was a member from 1964 to 1971 of the California Constitution Revision Commission.

He was married for 67 years to Dorothy Coon, who died in 2005. He is survived by eight children, Jeremy of Bothell, Wash., Dennis of Folsom, Thomas of Novato, Janice of Mountlake Terrace, Wash., Katherine of La Belle, Fla., Robert of San Anselmo, Mary of Petaluma and Anthony of San Anselmo; 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be at 5 p.m. on Saturday, followed by recitation of the rosary at 6 p.m. at Monte’s Chapel of the Hills, 330 Red Hill Ave., San Anselmo. The funeral will be at 2 p.m., Sunday, at St. Rita Catholic Church, 100 Marinda Drive, Fairfax.

The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the St. Anthony Foundation, the St. Vincent de Paul Society or the United Farm Workers Organizing Fund.